#133 Not Traveling Business Class
Combined submission from Matthew Greenall (@mngreenall) and Ladyhawk, edited by Shotgun Shack
As an Expat Aid Worker worth your salt, you never, ever fly business class. EAWs really like not flying business class, actually. (Said with a straight face). Because, seriously, how on earth can you justify the exorbitant price? (OK, maybe if a discounted rate is on offer, especially given that you need the extra luggage allowance to carry flipcharts and toolkits. But not as a general rule).
As a real EAW, you are more than ready to put up with a little discomfort (so long as the total flight duration is less than the eight-hour cut-off mandated in HRI’s official travel policy of course). After all, one bad night’s sleep is nothing compared to the conditions experienced by the people you’re going out to help. (Though you do often think to yourself how much more productive you would be on arrival if only you had a bigger seat…).
Your absolute commitment to traveling economy class is often bolstered by remembering that first time you were forced to fly business class (because there was an urgent conference to attend and because the trip was less than a week and it ended up being cheaper than economy anyway). (Well not cheaper as such, but only a teeny bit more expensive). (And anyway, it was from someone else’s travel budget and it’s not as if the money was going to be used for actual projects because that’s a different line item). The big seat was nice, as was the air-conditioned departure lounge and the free drinks. But nice as it was, you just didn’t feel at home with all those oil workers and all those non-genuine EAWs. You would never do it again of course (unless you were using air miles to get an upgrade or something).
Or, well, unless you had just nabbed a job as a UN consultant and you were on your way to a southern Africa capital and your ticket was booked at the last minute (because the hiring paperwork took for-freaking-ever – not your fault!). Even though the cost was around USD 10,000 round trip, and your task for the 3 days involved interviewing government officials about their “capacity building” needs in the provision of health services, and they mentioned that you were the 4th consultant that year asking the same questions (likely they just misunderstood the nuance of the important information you were gathering), it was kind of justified to travel business class because (as you understood once you crossed over to the dark side and joined the UN as permanent staff) your flight contributed to “aid delivery” (i.e. spending donor cash).
Clearly in this case, buying an economy fare USD 1,500 ticket would have actually been counterproductive as it would have required spending additional time and resources thinking about how to spend the left over USD 8500. That might have meant designing a new activity, identifying another consultant, drafting a terms of reference, etc, etc. Way too much work and takes way too long, particularly when there’s a deadline for spending the money and no one (eg donors) is really checking the impact anyway (the important thing is the burn rate).
When forced to fly business class, on the return leg of your flight, by the way, you’ll want to avoid going to the airport with any of your local colleagues who were helping out on this same mission. Your flying business class will only raise uncomfortable questions. Your local colleagues probably don’t really understand all the complexities involved in this decision to fly you business class, and it might be seen as you having some sort of privilege (which is not really the case). (And anyway, you didn’t ask for it! You’d be totally fine flying economy. So why should you have to take the heat? It’s so tiresome to explain these things when they are really not your fault).
What it comes down to is being against business class in principle, even if you can’t always translate that into practice. Like every good EAW, you really like not traveling business class, and you do certainly try your best to avoid it whenever possible.